State budget goes into OT
Matt Houston and Katie Gagliano/Manship School News Service
The Louisiana Legislature failed to come to a compromise on the state’s $29 billion budget to fund state agencies next fiscal year, adjourned sine die (for good) at 6 p.m. amid House chaos. The Senate and House convened back into a special session 30 minutes later with the singular assignment to come up with funding legislation.
The chambers gaveled themselves into the extraordinary session and immediately adjourned. The House will go back into session Monday. The Senate plans to return officially on Wednesday. All the work at this point is in the House. The soonest the funding bills can be acted upon is Wednesday.
The fiscal disagreement between the two bodies centered on a $50 million difference, or two-tenths of a percent of the total budget. The special session is the fourth such call by Gov. John Bel Edwards since he took office in January 2016.
The governor, clearly upset, said the House leadership “needs to grow up.”
House leadership “squandered” an opportunity to fix the mistakes that got the state into trouble in the first place. “They haven’t advanced a single plan – nothing.”
“The Legislature had every resource at its disposal to fix the problem, including my open door. I was never glued to a specific set of ideas to fix the cliff, but I did ask for input that I never received. We will pull ourselves out of the ditch from this train wreck.”
Discussion in the House devolved into near mutiny against the speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, from the visibly angry Democrat minority. An emotional speaker pro-tem, Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, dueled with Barras over parliamentary procedures in an attempt to pull an unusual end run around the conference committee as the clock ticked off the final 25 minutes.
A final version House Bill 1 did not make it to the House floor for debate. It was missing the signature of two House members of the conference committee. Leger attempted to force a vote on the Senate offer from the body, but Barras maneuvered around the issue until time ran out and tempers flaring from Democrats.
Henry blamed Senate intransigence to compromise. The Senate responded that it was irresponsible to hold back money from such a stingy appropriations bill.
House Republicans wanted hold $100 million in reserve for potential shortfall in estimated revenues during the fiscal year that begins July 1, opting to cut certain state agencies and cancel a 2 percent pay raise for state employees.
The Senate plan would have spent all of the available money, but, as a compromise, would urge all state agencies to refrain from spending a combined $50 million. The state agencies that receive the most funding would have the greatest responsibility to spend conservatively.
“We don’t want to spend 100 percent of the wrong number,” said Henry, who authored HB1.
House Bills 2 and 3, which prioritize and fund state construction projects, also did get voted on before the deadline, but the instruments now may be used as bargaining chips in the state budget negotiations. HB 3, which authorizes a billion dollars in funding for the projects, requires Democrat votes to pass its 70-vote hurdle.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said the Senate plan meets the House’s demand to withhold funds, so it’s “disingenuous” to shoot it down. LaFleur blamed partisan posturing for the hold-up.
“They’re putting politics ahead of the whole state… they’re acting like swamp people.”
The Legislature has until June 19 to pass House Bills 1, 2, and 3 and a supplemental appropriations bill. No other measures can be considered during the special session. The Legislature must come up with funding for the state for the looming 2017-18 fiscal year that begins in three weeks.
Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said Thursday night he’s “very disappointed” the Legislature didn’t vote on a budget and capital outlay plan before (ending).
He said the Senate proposal was brought to the House body in time to act, but apparently there wasn’t enough time or enough interest to give the idea full consideration.
“There’s probably enough blame to go around, so I think we can all share a little bit of responsibility.”